Both shaded the truth, fudged details

Iraq, law enforcement, North Korea among issues on which facts were twisted

Election 2004

Presidential debates

October 01, 2004|By Mark Matthews and Laura Sullivan | Mark Matthews and Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In the heat of last night's debate, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both stretched the truth and glossed over important details in discussing their own and their opponent's positions.

Here are the candidates' statements that drifted furthest from the facts.

Bush said, "Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he was systematically deceiving the inspectors."

By the time United Nations inspectors returned to Iraq in late fall 2002, Iraq had been substantially disarmed. The 1991 Persian Gulf war, subsequent inspections and airstrikes had largely rid Iraq of its weapons stockpiles.

The new inspections uncovered and destroyed missiles that exceeded United Nations range requirements.

Since U.S. and allied troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons have been found, and U.S. investigators say Hussein's nuclear program was in a rudimentary research phase.

Although Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented evidence in February 2003 that he said revealed Iraq's deception of inspectors, some of that evidence has been called into question.

In one well-publicized example, many U.S. intelligence officials think the vans described by Powell as mobile biological weapons laboratories were intended for other purposes.

Kerry said, "There are four to seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea."

The United States doesn't know how many nuclear weapons North Korea has, if any. By the mid-1990s, U.S. intelligence agencies believed Pyongyang had enough plutonium for one or more nuclear weapons.

Since then, North Korea acknowledged that it had a program to enrich uranium, another nuclear-weapons fuel. And recently, it declared that it had reprocessed the nuclear fuel rods that previously had been under the watch of international inspectors.

South Korean officials have said that if Pyongyang did that, it could have eight new nuclear bombs. But U.S. officials note that North Korea has made conflicting statements about its weapons program.

The two candidates also made statements that were confusing and possibly misleading.

Bush said, "Osama bin Laden is isolated; 75 percent of his people have been brought to justice."

He apparently was referring to deaths or arrests of key al-Qaida operatives involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The CIA estimated this year that two-thirds of that group had been removed.

Al-Qaida is a loose network of Islamist terror groups spread among 60 countries that some analysts think is continuing to grow and replenish its ranks.

Kerry said, "In Iraq, we've got weapons of mass destruction crossing the border every single day, and they're blowing people up." He apparently meant suicide bombers or weapons being smuggled.

Kerry said of Bush, "This is the president who said, "There were weapons of mass destruction," said "Mission accomplished," said we could fight the war on the cheap, none of which were true."

"Mission Accomplished" was on a banner behind Bush when he spoke to returning U.S. service members aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003. Bush never used the words.

Kerry said at various points that the United States went into Iraq alone or with a few allies, specifying Britain and Australia.

Bush added Poland, which sent troops to Iraq later, but he did not mention Spain, an early member of the coalition that later pulled its troops out.

Bush said his administration "worked with the Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security so we could better coordinate our borders and ports." Bush resisted the creation of the department for several months. He argued that it would become a lumbering bureaucracy and that he did not think the department needed to be a cabinet-level agency.

Bush also said, "We spent $3.1 billion for fire and police." Although such funding was allocated for local police and fire units, only a small portion has made it to the localities. Much of the money has been trapped at the state level, with state officials complaining that they are having problems meeting federal requirements established by Homeland Security.

Bush also cut funding in the 20005 budget for the departments Office of Domestic Preparedness, which give grants to states and localities.

Kerry twice accused Bush of "cutting the COPS program in America." COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services), a Clinton-era program, sent $10 billion in grants to local police to put 100,000 new officers on the streets.

The Justice Department did cut the program this year but, department officials say, only because the goal of hiring 100,000 officers had been met. The department started several new community-policing initiatives, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Law enforcement statistics emerged again last night when Bush said his administration has "changed the culture of the FBI to have counterterrorism as its No. 1 priority. We're communicating better. We're going to reform our intelligence services to make sure that we get the best intelligence possible."

On Monday, the Justice Department, the FBI's parent agency, released an internal report that said that despite huge increases in staff and funding, the bureau leaves one third of al-Qaida intercepts untranslated for extended periods of time.

The bureau is also more than a year behind on efforts to upgrade its computer system to track terrorists and prevent internal espionage.

Sun intern David Schoetz contributed to this article.

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